The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Vayeshev and is found in Genesis 37:1-40:23. Jacob and his family are now settled in Canaan. The parasha begins when Joseph is 17 years old; he is hated and envied by his brothers because he is the favorite of his father. They see him as a tattletale and are perturbed by his dreams which talk about the brothers bowing to him. When Jacob sends Joseph to find out how his brothers and the family’s flocks are getting along, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery to a passing caravan and dip Josephs’ coat of many colors in goat’s blood so they can bring it to Jacob as evidence of his favored son’s fate. Meanwhile, Joseph is brought to Egypt where he becomes a slave in the household of Pharaoh’s courtier Potiphar. Joseph is successful in Potiphar’s house until Potiphar’s wife unjustly accuses him of trying to rape her, Potiphar sends the young man to prison. In time, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker are imprisoned. Each has a disturbing dream that Joseph interprets, telling the cupbearer that he will be restored to his position and the baker that he will be executed. Events unfold as Joseph has foreseen; still, the chief cupbearer forgets his promise to bring Joseph’s case before Pharaoh.
In this story, Jacob ends up causing family discord by favoring Joseph over his other sons. Uniquely, this same type of favoritism was something that caused him problems as a child, yet, instead of making a different decision, he chose to repeat this unhealthy family pattern. Had Joseph and his brothers had adult role models that could have taught them different responses, it might have been easier for them to work out a more positive relationship with one another. Instead, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and plot a cover-up story. They live with emotional slavery for years based on their actions. Joseph, on the other hand, is actually changed by his slavery and imprisonment in Egypt and chooses instead to become a man of integrity and influence. Favoritism is not repeated with his children Ephraim and Manasseh, which we see clearly when Jacob blesses them in the future. We can learn from Joseph. When we hit difficult situations in our lives, we have choices about how we will respond and how we will allow the events to shape our character. We cannot change our history, but we can control our responses to those events and how we choose to live our lives in the future.